Let Them Smear Ice Cream On The Walls
I’m not gonna tell you what percentage of white I am so you can judge how entitled I am to be in this space. That’s why I say I’m black. I think it’s pushing back to say “black” (instead of mixed). I’d never thought about it that way, that the person asking us what we “are” is equating whiteness with superiority; the more white we are the better, the more entitled, the more worthy. Few do this consciously, but such is the insidious nature of “Whiteness.” I look past her eyes as she talks and wonder how much my own identification is wrapped up in white is better.
DuBois called it double consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others…a low-grade unrest you adjust to like a lumpy scar. The knowing that every time you walk into a room people are looking. They notice, they stare, they ascribe stories. We don’t get to blend in, to disappear, to be in the cut or on the low. In many ways a blessing, as it forces us to take up space, to find the ground beneath our feet, to stand firm and be unforgettable. She continues, I was raised to be like a show pony, with impeccable manners. I always thought, if I go into a situation and act properly I won’t be looked down upon. If I don’t act black. I knew what she meant. So tiring for a child. So tiring still.
Z owns a restaurant in New York. She’s a mix of grace and fire, African American, Northern and Southern, Jew and Gentile. As she goes to the kitchen to get our food, my mind chases a memory. Don’t tell me what I am or have to be. Let me be. Me. Maybe it’s black, maybe it’s mixed, maybe it’s none of your business. My dad was a Jamaican immigrant who had little in common with American “blacks” other than skin color. My family never ate watermelon, had family reunions or anything else considered “black” by American definitions. So does having brown skin make me “black?” Absolutely and not at all. How dare you, you self-hater! If you don’t say you’re black you’re denying your blackness, negating your roots. The truth is you have no idea. You don’t know me. And neither does the white guy who asks to touch my hair. Let us define ourselves. Stop your poking, prodding, judging, scolding.
I say I’m black because it’s an act of rebellion. It goes back to the “N” word. Either you’re the Big “N” or the other. So when I say I’m black I’m challenging someone to see me as the Big “N.”
I ask her what advice she would give to parents of mixed kids. Let them be themselves. Let them smear ice cream on the walls. Don’t make them feel like their behavior is a signal of their blackness.
Let them be. Let us be
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